The carrot and stick approach has been defined as combining a promised reward with a threatened penalty although other people believe that the phrase should read “Carrot on a stick,” which is purely an incentive with no implied threat.

Both phrases have been incorporated into the Carrot and Stick festival at Wimborne Minster in Dorset, which has been an annual event since the days of Thomas More.

There are two main events at the festival as well as other attractions such as the “Look at my big stick” peepshow and the ‘Interestingly shaped carrot” tent.

The first event is the Carrot and Stick throwing event. People taking part in this contest gather on the local green dressed in peasant clothing and carrying a stick with a nail in the end. This stick, which is checked by the measuring judge, must be no more than six feet in length. The idea is that carrots are catapulted into the air every five seconds via one of the siege engines used in this event. If a contestant manages to catch a carrot on his stick before it hits the ground then the contestant is through to the next round.

If a carrot falls to the ground and is then pierced by a competitor that person will be disqualified for cheating. People are not permitted to throw their sticks at a carrot in flight as this could be dangerous. Carrots are fired until there is only one person left without a carrot on the end of his stick. This person is eliminated. This process is repeated, often over several days, until either one person is left in the contest or the local supermarket runs out of carrots.

The person who won most often was the 6ft 7inch tall Malcolm Cropper, who was victorious 23 times between 1732 and 1767. Cropper reportedly once said that “My height was a big advantage to my success, but I also think that not drinking a vat of cider helped me line up the carrot with my stick.” This gives an indication of the training methods of his fellow contestants.

The second contest is the Carrot and Stick event. Here contestants, called Jockeys, place a carrot on the end of their stick and then dangle it in front of a donkey that  is pulling a small cart. This is supposed to entice the donkey forwards along the horseshoe-shaped course that the organizers lay out around Wimborne. It has to be the shape of a horseshoe as donkeys won’t go past the place they first started from. Lots are drawn to see which driver gets each donkey. The start is a ‘Le Mans’ start, where the drivers stand on one side of the High Street and at a signal from the Timer dash across the road, mount their carts, and start dangling their carrots. Some donkeys are fast starters and there have been occasional fatalities where slower drivers were knocked down by a ravenous donkey.

Frankie Turner won the event twelve times in his forty years of trying, largely because he coated his carrot in honey which some donkeys adore. “Some years I win by a mile and at other times I don’t even start because my donkey despises honey,” said Frankie in 1998, a year before he was stung to death by irate bees in his apiary.

The most successful donkey was Billy the Swift, who won fourteen times in his career between 1891 and 1909. Billy was born on a vegetable farm and loved his carrots. Upon his demise, Billy was stuffed (not with carrots) and placed in the Carrot and Stick Museum in Wimborne, which was built to commemorate the event.

This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions by Julian Worker